by Lisa Moyer, Home School Graduate from Geneva Illinois
April 12, 2011
The regulative principle is most often applied to formal worship. It is used to determine the format of church services, allowing only those things that God has authorized for worship, including prayer, reading of the Word, preaching, singing, and the sacraments. The regulative principle is in essence a call for “sola Scriptura,” or Scripture alone. It defends the Bible as complete and authoritative. In the same way water is everything needed to quench thirst, so God's Word is all that is needed for godly life and righteousness. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV). The regulative principle applies to the family in a significant way. It is important to understand what the regulative principle is, how it applies to family, and the impacts of this application.
The Bible, and what can be deduced from its principles, is to regulate our lives. It even gives instruction for how to carry out seemingly neutral activities. The law which God provides in the Bible is comprehensive, lacking no clarity or thoroughness. No bright idea from mankind can in any way enhance or add to His completely sufficient statutes. Dr. Joe Morecraft writes, “Biblical law is so perfect and comprehensive...that any alteration, supplementation, or amendment of would be an arrogant assault by sinful man on the majestic sovereignty of the triune God” (Morecraft, 79).
The “alteration” Morecraft refers to can be adding regulations to the Bible or excluding parts of Scripture from application. Although worship is often regulated by more specific regulations in the Bible, all of life is to be lived according to His principles. The heart and foundation of the regulative principle, that Scripture must not be added to or taken from, applies to everything. Because this is its core, it is a principle that effects all areas of life and institutions, including the family.
The “regulative principle of family” is especially significant as the family is the foundational unit of society. Thomas Manton noted the significance of the family:
“Religion was first hatched in families, and there the devil seeketh to crush it; the families of the Patriarchs were all the Churches God had in the world for the time; and therefore, (I suppose,) when Cain went out from Adam's family, he is said to go out from the face of the Lord, Gen. 4:16. Now, the devil knoweth that this is a blow at the root, and a ready way to prevent the succession of Churches: if he can subvert families, other societies and communities will not long flourish and subsist with any power and vigor; for there is the stock from whence they are supplied both for the present and future” (Manton).
The ways this application takes effect are numerous, but one of the most foundational is that of training children. Scripture contains all the instructions needed for raising a family and educating children. Of course, this is not to say that no textbooks are needed for learning math or that work experience is not helpful for building character. For example, rather than the idea that the Bible teaches the historical events that occurred in 1861, it is the concept that God has revealed how we are to view, interpret, and respond to history. God has showed that the education of children is a responsibility delegated to parents. In the same way that God's worship has never been delegated to human authority, so the training of sons and daughters has never been delegated to any institution outside the family.
The book of Proverbs illustrates the instruction and wisdom that passes from a father directly to his children. “Hear, my children, the instruction of a father, and give attention to know understanding” (Proverbs 4:1). In Deuteronomy 4:10, the Lord says: “Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, that they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.” He says again, “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6). To apply the heart of the regulative principle to the training of children is to not add to or take away from the clear responsibility given to parents for their children's training.
The impacts of applying the regulative principle to families and the discipleship of sons and daughters are significant. The way a child is educated influences their entire life, especially the religious perspective their education takes on. Robert Booth commented, “It is not a matter of whether our children will be taught religion in school; it is only a matter of which religion they will be taught.” Rather than taking away from the Word of God by transferring the distinctly religious education of children to the state, God's revelation shows that mothers and fathers are given the role of their children's education.
Parents are to ensure that their children receive a Biblical worldview, knowledge of God, and the truth of the Scriptures. While outside mentors, teachers, or resources may be helpful in assisting the development of understanding in children, the responsibility continues to rest on the mother and father. To expect an age-segregated children's Sunday school class, for instance, to teach one's son all he needs to know about the Bible and how it is to be lived out, would be shifting the role of parent to a Sunday school teacher. Since God has never presented a teacher with the obligation He gives to parents, it would be altering His Word to make that transfer ourselves. Parents are to be involved in teaching their children truths of Scripture.
Another implication is that education would involve discipleship. Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines “disciple” as, “To teach; to train, or bring up.” As God has given parents the role of teaching their children the Lord's commands, education involves more than a memorization of facts. It is an unceasing passing on of the Christian faith (Deuteronomy 4). This affects the religious perspective that children are educated with. Scott Brown writes, “[John] Calvin recognized the supreme importance of the father's role in the discipleship of children... In contrast to our own age where parents are content to systematically outsource their children's education, Calvin knew that it was the primary responsibility of the home” (Brown, 179). More than a knowledge of subject matter, the Lord requires that parents teach their children to “keep His statutes and His commandments which I command you today, that it may go well with you and with your children after you” (Deuteronomy 4:40). Discipleship, or training in God’s Word, is a necessary part of education.
Although the regulative principle is typically applied to worship only, the regulative principle in essence is to not take away from or add to God's Word. It is a principle that calls us to look to God’s Word alone for how we are to live our lives. The impact it has when applied to the family is important as it addresses the responsibility for education. Greg Price wrote, ”Is God’s Word adequate and complete in giving to man all that man needs to know as to how he must please God? Absolutely...” The Bible shows us everything we need to live a life pleasing to Him, which includes the responsibility of education.
Booth, Robert. "Schools are Religious." Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics. 31 Mar 2011.
Brown, Scott. Family Reformation: The Legacy of Sola Scriptura in Calvin's Geneva. Wake Forest, VA: Merchant Adventures, 2009.
Manton, Thomas. "Mr. Thomas Manton's Epistle to the Reader." Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics. 31 Mar 2011.
Morecraft, Joe. How God Wants Us to Worship Him: A Defense of the Bible as the Only Standard for Modern Worship. San Antonio, TX: The Vision Forum, 2004.
Price, Greg. "The Regulative Principle of Worship." Foundation for Reformation. 7 Apr 2011.